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Dog Breeding and Puppy Farming: An Insiders Insight

Submitted by Freelance Writers on January 26, 2010 9:24 am --With Pedigree dog breeding again a topic in the canine press it might be a good time to remember that puppy farming is not just a UK problem. All across the world puppy farms or mills as they are also called feed our desire to own the latest must have breeds. From Labradoodles to pedigree Black Labradors , if it is in demand then you can bet your money that the puppy farmers are gearing up to give the public what they want, writes Glyn Roberts a former RSPCA inspector now based in Malaysia. To most people the term Puppy Farm conjures up just that, an isolated farm in the country where the outbuildings are full of different breeds being kept in squalid conditions, treated like breeding machines producing litter after litter to satisfy the demand. Of course this scenario to a certain extent is true but after almost 2 decades working with the RSPCA primarily as an Inspector Ive got a slightly different idea of what I consider a puppy farm and it might surprise you. Puppy Farms My first encounter with a puppy farmer was as an RSPCA Inspector recently posted to South Wales in the early 1990s. The Regional control centre had received a complaint from a member of public who had bought a Sheltie puppy from a lady and which had subsequently become ill and died. The caller to the RSPCA was also concerned that there seemed to be an excessively large number of dogs in outbuildings and sheds around the house so I set off to investigate. As I drove up the long drive to the large detached house I could hear the barking of dogs coming from different locations around the property including inside the house. The door was answered by a well dressed elderly lady and over her shoulder in the kitchen I noticed rows of cages containing pedigree cats seconds before the smell of ammonia hit me and made my eyes water. After explaining the reason for my visit I was shown around the various sheds, garages and even coal bunkers and noted in excess of 30 Shelties, mostly female and mostly dirty being kept in cramped and clearly unsuitable conditions. All the dogs were however receiving adequate food and water and were physically in good condition under the dirt. The cats too despite the ammonia were well fed with food and water and amazingly didnt seem to be suffering any breathing problems or watery eyes as a result of the way they were being kept. As this was long before the Animal Welfare Act came into force and I was still working with the old Protection of Animals Act 1911 there was little I could do but offer strong advice and refer the matter to the Local Authority for possible breaches of the Breeding of Dogs Act. So was this lady a puppy farmer? In my opinion she was but before you reach your conclusion I will add a few more details. The caller to the RSPCA had found her via the Kennel Club Website where she was advertising her KC registered and Pedigree pups for sale, she was also a well known Show Judge and a member of the Cat Fancy. The Pedigree cats were also for sale and advertised in the equivalent organisations publications. I did check to see if she was still actively showing her dogs as there was an exemption for breeders to sell the puppies not good enough to show and not have to register with the local authority but this lady hadnt shown anything in a long time. Have you changed your mind now? I hope not ,as unfortunately this incident set the pattern for my the rest of my RSPCA Inspectorate career and whilst my colleagues in West Wales were indeed dealing with large scale typical puppy farms I was encountering this scenario time and time again. The most recent cases I encountered before I left the RSPCA in 2008 both involved breeders of the same species of rare pedigree dog and one of the people involved was actually the President of the National Breed Society which had Kennel Club affiliation. These people subjected their animals to horrendous living conditions but because they were fed and watered and looked in good condition no-one was any the wiser.

The President even wrote about the need for socialisation of the dogs as the breed was notoriously timid and a one person dog, yet kept most of her stock in filthy, dark sweatboxes which on the day of our raid were approaching 35 degrees Centigrade when the sun came out. To look at ,the dogs seemed in good condition and some of the favoured ones had even recently been placed in shows. On closer examination however most were suffering from teeth, skin or behavioural problems as a result of the food and husbandry practices. Thankfully all the above were prosecuted for cruelty and banned from keeping dogs for a minimum of 10 years. Now this isnt an attack on breeders as the majority I have encountered have been extremely good custodians of whichever breed they specialise in but rather a chance for you to step back for a moment and reflect on the definition of what is a puppy farm. In my book it is anybody who breeds for profit or recognition, sells the offspring and keeps their animals in conditions that breach the universally accepted standard of the 5 Freedoms. Clearly if these people had kept all their stock and not sold any then that would make them an Animal Hoarder which is a whole new level of neglect. Mini Puppy Farms Now puppy farms dont have to be large undertakings and in my time Ive encountered a number of people who I would consider to be farmers but who only have half a dozen bitches. One particular guy on the outskirts of Gloucester used to breed Rottweilers and German Shepherd dogs when they were in fashion along with Labradors. He kept his dogs in small cages dotted around his property which was a mobile home next to a main road. He was very careful to make sure that he never had more than one litter of anything on his premises at any one time and used to advertise in the local free paper using friends telephone numbers so no-one could trace how many litters he was actually producing a year. When a spate of attacks by Rottweilers caused the breed, and larger dogs in general, to fall out of popularity he just dumped all his Rottweiler and German Shepherd bitches in a lay-by 10 miles away and restocked with Jack Russell Terriers and smaller breeds. Unfortunately I couldnt link the dumped dogs to him so he got away with it. Dealers In my view dealers are anyone who doesnt actually own the bitch but rather just buy the litter and sell them on. These vary from people buying puppies from the free papers cheap and selling them on all the way up to professional dealers who import puppies wholesale from Ireland. There are any number of couriers travelling the Irish route who drive from Southern Ireland through Northern Ireland, catch a ferry , land in Wales and then drive through to London and repeat the journey in reverse who for a fee will transport your dog or litter of puppies wherever you want along their particular route. Safeguards So what can you do to safeguard yourself from these Puppy Farmers and Dealers ? The answer is already widely publicised but I will give you my version. * Adverts Most reputable free ad papers make breeders pay a premium and declare themselves as Trade if they advertise more than a certain number of litters. To get round this the breeders or dealers usually ask a friend to put the advert in and when you phone you will be asked to phone a different number be very suspicious if this happens or the person answering the phone is not the one who owns the pups. Report this to the advertising department of the paper concerned. * Also never specify which puppies you are phoning up about. If the breeder has to ask what breed you are

after then be suspicious. * Never meet halfway. The seller might make out they are doing you a favour but they could be trying to hide something. Unless you live on the Isle of Skye you should be able to travel to see the pups at their home. After all the puppy you are buying is going to be a part of your family for the next 10 or so years so you should be prepared to spend some time and make the right decision . Quite often the dealers and breeders know the people are keen to buy a puppy and often turn up with just one or two in the car saying the others were sold . If they have arranged to see 6 people and already driven to the first five you will end up with a choice of exactly 1 puppy. In the event you are after a particularly uncommon breed you will probably have had to go via the Kennel Club anyway to find the breeder, so be prepared for them to want to check YOU out as well. * Always see the bitch with the pups. When I say with I actually mean with not just at the same address as. Just because you are buying Labrador puppies and the guy has a Labrador bitch out in the garden does it automatically follow that the two are related ? Sounds cynical I know but after almost 20 years Ive developed a healthy (although some would say unhealthy) desire to check what people say before taking it on face value. Ask why the bitch is outside away from the pups ? If the answer sounds weird , challenge it. They are weaned (are they old enough ?), shes having a break from them , shes not good with strangers (possible temperament issues or just protective) . * There should be no reason why you are not be allowed to say hello to the mum so ask if she can be brought in. If she comes in check her over, does she look like she has finished nursing the pups , does she interact with the owner in a normal manner or is she distant with him or her like she doesnt know them ? Trust your instincts and if something doesnt feel right it probably isnt so walk away. * Paperwork Always check any paperwork before you part with your cash as once you have handed it over you really dont have much leverage. If they say the pups are KC registered then ask to see the paperwork, ask to see any certificates and any veterinary reports such as Hip scores or eye tests. Make sure they are originals and that the name and address on any letters matches the name and address of the person you are talking to. You wouldnt buy a car from someone in Devon if it was apparently registered to someone in Manchester would you ? So dont settle for less with your new puppy. * Vaccinations Although technically paperwork Ive included it on its own as it is vitally important that your new puppy is vaccinated properly. Always check the certificate carefully. At the very least it should have a description of your new pup, breed, sex, age, D.O.B etc and the details of the vet that carried out the vaccination. This should be local so it is worth checking out the names and addresses of local vets on the internet before you head off to see you potential purchase. It should be signed by the vet who carried out the examination and the seller should not object to you phoning the vet to check if you are worried about any details. Most vaccine bottles now come with peel off stickers detailing batch numbers and expiry date which can just be stuck on the certificate so read these carefully and make sure it is in date. It is well known that vaccines are smuggled in from Ireland and overseas and by failing to transport them in an appropriate manner and at the required temperature can destroy their viability and render them useless. Ive come across instances of whole trays of new vaccines sitting in hot vans or sheds clearly well above their keep refrigerated temperature limit. There are many more indicators of a dodgy potential puppy farm animal but if you stick to my basic 7 point checklist then you shouldnt go far wrong. To tamper with the Crimewatch mantra The incidents I have detailed above are the exception rather than the rule and the bulk of breeders and people selling puppies are honest and caring. However dont let the small minority get away with cruelty and neglect. (c) Glyn Roberts. All rights reserved.